Seems like forever since I last posted, what with Josh Yohe handling post-game blog duties at Consol Energy Center of late. However, as the No. 1 beat boy, I reserve the right to take the “good” trips, which is why I’m at The Garden right now. Some quick hits before I get to coach DAN BYLSMA’s thoughts on C EVGENI MALKIN, who was in good spirits today on his favorite road stop:
= RW ARRON ASHAM (illness) and C MIKE COMRIE (lower-body injury) did not practice at Madison Square Garden. Bylsma said Asham possibly could play tonight against the New York Rangers, “but it looks unlikely.” As for Comrie, Bylsma said he has “a week or so of rehab to do.”
= The New York Post reported on Twitter that Rangers RW MARIAN GABORIK might not play tonight. If he doesn’t the Rangers would dress only 11 forwards, according to the Twitter report.
= The Penguins have not opened negotiations with any of their impending free agents. GM RAY SHERO and his staff are still formulating a plan for those talks. The Penguins’ impending free agents are: C CRAIG ADAMS, Asham, Comrie, RW CHRIS CONNER, RW PASCAL DUPUIS, D DERYK ENGELLAND, RW ERIC GODARD, C MIKE RUPP, C MAX TALBOT; C MARK LETESTU and RW TYLER KENNEDY are restricted free agents, meaning their deals will expire but the Penguins retain their rights. Combined, these players account for $7.325 million against the salary cap this season.
= Former RW BILL GUERIN has not been hired by the Penguins as a professional scout, despite reports to the contrary. Shero said Guerin, who has not officially retired and is dabbling his toe in the TV broadcast waters on Versus, is being given the opportunity within the organization “to feel out” a possible future role in hockey. TOM FITZGERALD, currently the assistant to the general manager for the Penguins, was given the same opportunity four years ago when he was brought into the organization as a director of player development. Fitzgerald, who also served as an assistant coach on the 2009 Stanley Cup team, is on this trip to New York. Guerin, who lives in suburban Long Island, visited the Penguins at their morning practice. Shero said Guerin recently spent a weekend shadowing Fitzgerald at AHL affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
= Now for Bylsma’s thoughts on Malkin, who has scored 36 goals and 99 points in 91 regular-season games after closing his scoring-championship season with 11 goals and 32 points in the final 25 games after Bylsma replaced former coach MICHEL THERRIEN.
“I think we’d all like to see him put up bigger numbers and have the type of season he had two seasons ago, but I see him doing a lot of things better in his game this year than last year. The consistency in which he works on the defensive side of the puck is much better. He’s a guy we count on in the defensive zone to play against the other teams’ top players, as a centermen. The one area I think he can improve on, and he’s making strides, is his decision making with the puck; when he takes the opportunity to make an offensive play versus making a smart play.
“There’s a lot of good in his game. He’s just got to keep getting better and more focused, shooting the puck and attacking the net and playing in those areas — because he’s a dominant player when he does. He’s got a lot of those opportunities, but there’s still another level he can get to in that area of the game. But there’s a lot he’s adding to our team and I think sometimes that’s overshadowed.”
There is danger in reading too much into those words, but the points that stuck out to me:
* Bylsma believes Malkin is more consistent defensively. Last season Malkin often looked as though he was ignoring defensive responsibilities for long stretches. He was arguably the Penguins’ most aggressive backchecker during his two 1oo-point seasons. Often many of his best rushes and scoring chances those seasons came after he was engaged defensively.
* Bylsma specifically laid out how Malkin can be his old dominant self: shoot the puck, attack the net, play in (high traffic) areas. Three weeks ago I went back and watched the 2009 playoffs, which for Malkin didn’t begin great. In Game 3 of Round 2, he started shooting the puck, attacking the net and playing in those tough traffic areas. From that point on he was the playoffs’ leading scorer, and the Penguins’ best offensive player. His linemate from that point on was Talbot, with whom he has been reunited once again.
* Bylsma thinks Malkin can get to another level even though he’s adding a lot. That’s just it, no? He is on pace for 27 goals and 75 points. No fewer than 40 goals and 100 points, if he plays at least 77 games, should be the expectation — not because of his equal-to-SIDNEY CROSBY $8.7 million cap hit, but because Malkin: A) has shown he can score 40 and post 100; and B) may be the most physically gifted player in the game. One problem for Malkin in the perception category is Crosby’s continued rise. So long as they are on the same team one will be judged by the production of the other, as was the case two years ago when it appeared Malkin had taken a step ahead of Crosby.
Anyway, that’s all for this large update.